Depleted Ghana need to beat Burkina Faso to progress at the African Cup of Nations

Burkina Faso v Ghana, African Cup of Nations, January 19, 2010

Burkina Faso 9/2; Draw 13/5; Ghana 4/5

A real humdinger awaits the conclusion to Group B at the African Cup of Nations. Cutting to the chase, Burkina Faso only need a draw to upset the odds to advance to the quarter-finals while powerhouse Ghana require all three pointsafter a disappointing 3-1 lost against the Ivory Coast.

Togo’s withdrawal from the competition left the group in disarray, with the organisers opting to allow the four team group to shrink to just three teams. That forced Ghana to miss out on matchday one, while Burkina Faso were fortunate to face the Ivorians on an off day for the Elephants, registering a goalless draw. With the Ivorians up-against-it in their next match against Ghana, the rusty Black Stars where second best as they succumbed to a one-sided 3-1 defeat.

Burkina Faso may rank as big outsiders for overall honours, but don’t write The Stallions off just yet. Many scouts will be watching out for Moumouni Dagano, the joint top-scorer in World Cup qualifying from any region with 12 goals (although seven of his goals came against relative minnows Burundi and the Seychelles). The 29-year-old has enjoyed spells in Belgium and France, and is now in the Qatari league with Al-Khor, where he notched 10 goals in 25 matches last season. (Burkina Faso are 18/1 to win both halves.)

Key to helping Dagano will be the service from Jonathan Pitroipa. The Hamburg midfielder was the star performer against the Ivory Coast showing himself to be a determined runner and hard-worker in the middle of the pitch. With a keen eye for goal from a slightly deeper position, as well as capable of delivering some delicious through balls, Pitropia will be a key to Burkina Faso’s attacking game.

While the minnows will likely play to their strengths, defend deep, and look to attack on the counter (Burkina Faso are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 2/9 against), Ghana’s A-plan is out the window with the absence of Michael Essien. An unfortunate knee injury in training has returned the Chelsea star to the treatment table after playing just 45 minutes against the Ivorians in his return match from a month on the sidelines.

Missing not only Essien, but also Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, the Black Stars are lacking in the centre of the pitch. There is however some good news as pocket-sized midfield enforcer Anthony Annan should be fit to participate in his first match of the games.

In the absence of several senior players, coach Milovan Rajevac may be forced to rely on some of his youthful resources in his squad. (Ghana are 11/4 to win both halves.)

Arguably the brightest rising star in Ghanian football is Dominic Adiyiah. The 20-year-old forward scored eight goals at the U20 World Cup to win the Golden Boot, and was swiftly snapped by Italian powerhouse AC Milan.

Adiyiah wasn’t the only teenager though to grab the headlines in 2009. Midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was picked up by Sampdoria after a series of powerful showings in Egypt at the U20 World Cup, while Marseille’s Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew showed that he has one of the sweetest left pegs of football’s next generation. (Ghana are 8/5 to score in both halves.)

It’s not all about the kids though for Ghana. Kwadwo Asamoah, the Udinese midfielder, has the talent to cause Burkina Faso headaches with his pace, touch and eye for a pass. Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan will also look to add to his penalty scored against the Elephants, with the forward having netted eight times in the first half of the Ligue 1 season.

A tight contest could prevail (8/11 to be under 2.5 goals in the game, 11/8 to be over) if Burkina Faso manage to score an early goal and/or to keep Ghana at bay for the opening 20 minutes. Focus will fall on the Black Stars to prove the have the mental strength to go on and win.

101predicts: Burkina Faso 0 – Ghana 2 (7/1)

Burkina Faso 9/2; Draw 13/5; Ghana 4/5

Full match odds here.